Toyota’s National Rally Champs drought has finally ended – Leeroy Poulter and Elvene Coetzee bagged the championship crown at Polokwane on the weekend.
Poulter and Coetzee needed to score full points on the penultimate round in Polokwane to get ahead of defending champion Mark Cronje and his Ford Fiesta. Cronje suffered the misfortune of running into a gate post, which left him without a working front suspension and ultimately put paid to his ideas of a win. His retirement left the way clear for Poulter and Coetzee, whose Limpopo win was enough to hand them the championship.
Poulter has become the first Toyota driver since the legendary Serge Damseaux to bag the overall title. Damseaux last claimed the championship in 2004. More astounding, perhaps, is that co-driver Elvene Coetzee is the first female navigator to win the championship in more than four decades after Minota van Bergen won the title in 1970.
Poulter said: ‘It is an amazing feeling! We had to fight so hard to get here; it is difficult to accept it has actually happened.’
He also paid homage to the team that developed, built and prepared his Castrol Team Toyota Yaris: ‘The guys did a simply stunning job throughout the year, and even though we had our challenges, I have to give them credit for a job well done.’
Coetzee added: ‘I’m just so glad everything came together for us. One can dream and one can hope, but to actually stand on the podium and know the championship is ours, is simply unbelievable.’
Emotion and drama
Adding more emotion to the grittiness of rallying, when Giniel de Villiers regular co-driver Greg Godrich fell ill before the rally, leaving De Villiers without a navigator, the highly experienced Pierre Arries from Volkswagen stepped into the fray. The two champs took a few stages to adjust and after three stages Toyota had blocked out the podium with Poulter, Fekken and De Villiers. De Villiers/Arries Day 1 was halted by electrical problems, but thanks to the Super Rally regulations were allowed to restart on the following day and finished fifth overall.
In the S2000 Challenge class Wilro Dippenaar and Kesavan Naidoo clinched the honours in their Toyota Auris. The pair drove an inspired rally: they were third overall, incurred a time penalty and dropped back fifth overall, were locked in a spectacular battle with two Volkswagen Polos and finally broke through to take the final step on the overall podium.
In Class S1600, Toyota Etios R2 driver, Guy Botterill sealed his maiden championship victory with navigator Simon Vacy-Lyle reading the notes. The duo won all but one of the rounds so far in 2014 and needed only a few points to wrap up their championship. The retirement of their only mathematical challenger, Chad van Beurden, driving a VW Polo, ensured the championship was won earlier than expected.